Vista Service Pack 2 Hits Public Beta

Microsoft announced on Tuesday it is shipping the first public beta of Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2 and Vista Service Pack 2. For the next couple of days, the releases are only available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.

On Thursday, the company says it will expand that to anyone who wants to download it via a Customer Preview Program on TechNet.

Since the two operating systems share the same core code, Microsoft refers to the pair together as “SP2 Beta.”

“SP2 Beta is an update to Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 that, along with improvements delivered to users via Windows Update and via our hardware and software partners, addresses key feedback from our customers,” Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Windows product management, said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Microsoft released limited betas of the two service packs in late October.

Along with the patches and other updates, Vista SP2 provides a few new features. For example, Vista SP2 adds Windows Search 4.0, the Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack, and the ability to record data on to Blu-Ray media natively in Vista, Nash said. It also adds Windows Connect Now to simplify Wi-Fi configuration.

Meanwhile, TechArp, the Malaysian tech site with a track record for nailing Microsoft’s operating system service pack release schedules, said Monday that Vista SP2 is due out in April 2009 – earlier than many observers expected and months before the expected release of Windows 7.

The TechArp site says its sources tell it that Vista SP2 is planned to begin the “release candidate” stage – the last testing step before actual release – in February, and will be “released to manufacturing,” or RTM, in April. The final “release to Web” date is currently unknown.

That does raise the question of whether TechArp’s sources really do have the scoop on SP2’s release. At least one analyst thinks they may.

“TechArp is probably pretty close; March or April is where the money is,” Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, told InternetNews.com in an e-mail.

TechArp earned some street cred last winter and spring when it correctly predicted when Microsoft would release Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3.

Service packs are normally mundane releases mostly aimed at increasing a product’s stability, reliability, and/or security. That may not be as sexy as a new release of a product, such as Windows 7 – Microsoft’s follow-on to Vista – but historically, the very fact that service packs do provide improvements in basic functions is a major factor in IT shops shifting from delaying deployments to making the move.

Therefore, Vista SP2 may get some IT organizations off the fence earlier instead of waiting for Windows 7, which could drop as early as June 2009, or as late as early 2010.

Next page: Vista gains momentum.

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However, SP2 may or may not help the slow, but steadily rising, sales of Vista. First, many customers who are still running Windows XP – perhaps as many as 700 million — have to make the decision of whether to wait for Windows 7 or to switch to Vista in the meantime. The company, and many analysts, advise users to go ahead and make the switch – although CEO Steve Ballmer recently said it was okay with him if users wanted to wait.

Besides Microsoft’s somewhat confusing message to customers, though, there are plenty of other issues in the mix. “I think we’ll continue to see growth of Vista adoption that’s being driven by the purchase of new machines,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com.

Indeed, that appears to be occurring, according to a report from Forrester Research released last month. “By the end of this year, Forrester anticipates that one-third of enterprises will begin deploying Windows Vista despite flirting with going straight to Windows 7 when it becomes available in early 2010,” the report states.

Still, fears of the fallout from the recession seem likely to slow Vista growth even further, which may mean a death knell for Vista, two service packs or not.

For instance, the Forrester report continues: “Between January and June 2008, Windows Vista adoption among Forrester clients increased from 6.2 percent to 8.8 percent.”

That’s partly a reflection of the economic outlook.

“I think that whatever chance that Vista had of making a deeper impact will be slowed by the depth of the recession,” King said, citing increasing numbers of IT shops that are cutting back capital purchase for the foreseeable future.

In fact, three recent studies show IT spending in 2009 will be mostly flat compared to 2008.

So does that mean there’s not a compelling reason for a second service pack for Vista? “Sure there’s still a point in having it [SP2] because you’ve got tens of millions of people using Vista now, and you want to assure them that the users’ experience is as good as possible,” King added.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on TechArp’s “speculation” and Nash said in his post that “the final release date will be based on quality.”

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